Excuses

So I couldn’t figure out why my enthusiasm for blogging had been on the wane — then I remembered one possible excuse, which is that I’ve been donating a good chunk of my time every week to being an intern at OneWorld.net.

The site is kind of a grassroots effort at showcasing under-reported humanitarian and environmental crises around the world, which unfortunately do not make the front page of the NYTimes, and making them more accessible to US readers. My work is basically to check a bunch of NGO sites and other alternative international news sources, choose some compelling tidbit, look for quotable background information and eye-popping pictures about it, and then write up a blurb. Then repeat. Most of the stuff I write ends up being ferociously edited, largely because I don’t have a lot of experience pretending to be a journalist. (Evidently journalism calls for a different tone from that of dense academic papers or pithy blog posts.)

But the work is kind of fun, it’s certainly very informative, and I encourage you to check out the site. It seems to satisfy whatever mysterious urge causes me to blog.

Of course if that were true I wouldn’t be blogging right now…

Actually my current excuse is I’m trying to avoid writing a short paper due tomorrow on “Civil Society in China”. This is a tricky topic since most activities that American political scientists would associate with “civil society” are expressly frowned upon by the CCP. Of course there are fascinating exceptions to this rule (environmental NGO’s, local chambers of commerce, homeowners associations, etc.) that I’ve been doing a lot of reading about. There’s a growing body of research on the subject since people are looking for indications that China might either collapse due to social unrest or spontaneously transform itself into a democracy. Either possibility would be of huge global importance and both are well nigh impossible to predict. “Civil society” on the ground is supposed to be a good indicator to watch since it might coalesce into an opposition political party — in which case, it’s presence would be very significant — or it could serve as a “pressure valve” to allow malcontents to blow off the accumulated steam of post-reform society — in which case it’s absence would be significant!

Generally folks have “read the literature” and so they have this in the back of their heads, they proceed to do a whole lot of really focused, locally oriented research, and then they try make an intriguing (tenure-achieving) argument about “civil society” in general. But I can’t buy into the allure of these arguments since the definition of “civil society” is fuzzy, the evidence surrounding it is usually based on idiosyncratic local variables, and hence the stuff may or may not be applicable. That doesn’t mean it’s not interesting, or that Joe Bloggs PhD doesn’t deserve tenure, it just makes it hard to write a coherent short paper about the topic.

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